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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 October 2006, 16:12 GMT 17:12 UK
Kidnapped tourists freed in Niger
Four-wheel drive cars at an oasis in the Sahara
The tourists had been keeping an online diary of their journey
Two Italian tourists have been freed after being kidnapped by an armed group in Niger two months ago.

Claudio Chiodi and Ivano de Capitani were freed after Libyan mediation. They had initially been held for two weeks without food and water, Mr Chiodi said.

They were seized in August near the Chad border, in an area that is notorious for bandit activity.

The tourists were ambushed and robbed by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of the Sahara along with about 20 others.

Most were released the following day.

Personal gain

Mr Chiodi and Mr de Capitani arrived in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, during Friday night after being freed on Thursday.

Seeming relaxed after his ordeal, Mr Chiodi described how he was kept in "very bad" conditions for the first two weeks after the tourists' capture.

"They initially told us they were taking us hostage to highlight their demands for Niger's government to respect human rights," he said.

"But at the end we discovered that their motives were personal gains. They are bandits."

Italian kidnap victim Claudio Chiodi
Claudio Chiodi said he was denied food and water

The two men spent 55 days in the hands of their captors, much of it reportedly in a mountain hideout close to the Niger-Chad border.

Mr Chiodi said that some of his captors were of Chadian origin and had originally planned to kidnap French visitors, because of the strong connections between the French and Niger governments.

Niger has suffered periodic rebellions in its vast Sahara regions for decades.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of the Sahara are the major rebel group among the Toubou, an ethnic group who mainly live in the north of Chad and southern Libya around the Tibesti mountains in the central Sahara.

The Toubou and Tuareg peoples in the Sahara desert fought a prolonged rebellion against the Niger government in the mid-1990s, but the region has been relatively calm in recent years.

Hostage negotiations

The men were released thanks to the intervention of a charity associated with Libya's leader Muammar Muhammad al-Gaddafi.

Map of Niger

Saleh Abdel-Salam, the director of the Gaddafi Charity Foundation, said negotiations for the men's release had been long and difficult but that they had been released unconditionally.

The charity has previously had success in gaining the release of three Germans kidnapped in the Philippines by Islamic militants in 2000.

It also claimed success in securing the freedom of 32 Europeans captured by suspected Islamists in Algeria in 2003.

Italian tourists found in Niger
22 Aug 06 |  Africa
'Rebels' hold Italians in Niger
25 Aug 06 |  Africa
Timeline: Niger
12 Oct 06 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Niger
12 Oct 06 |  Country profiles

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